During its brief existence of about a year in 1777-78, Samuel Horn's stockaded dwelling on the southern bank of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River just east of present-day McElhattan, provided a place of refuge for the area's settlers when threatened by American Indians. Those Indians were incited both by the promise of British gold (the Revolutionary War was ongoing) and by their own anger over the white settlers "squatting" on Indian land on the north side of the river.
Not much is known about Samuel Horn, not where he came from, nor where he went after he and all the other white settlers fled the area down the river to Fort Augusta in Sunbury during the "Big Runaway" of early July 1778. No records show that he ever warranted any land (the land on which he settled had been warranted to a John L. Webster in 1769), that he had any family or that he ever returned to the McElhattan area.
"When the Indians became threatening in 1777, with the assistance of his neighbors, (Horn) enclosed his primitive dwelling with stockades, and it became a rallying point as well as a haven of safety in the perilous times which followed," according to 19th century Pennsylvania author John M. Buckalew.
DAVID KAGAN/Sun-Gazette Correspondent
A Daughters of the American Revolution monument and plaque reads: “This marks the site of Samuel Horn’s Fort, 1777, said also to be the site of a much older French trading post.” It is on the south side of the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad tracks, about 200 yards east of Spook Hollow Road and the railroad bridge over to Avis.
The fort "probably embraced a quarter of an acre, thereby affording ample room for a number of families. A small stream of pure mountain water ran along the western side of the enclosure, and it is probable that there was a way constructed so it could be reached with safety from the prowling foe."
Of the fort's armaments, Buckalew wrote, "There's nothing on record to show that the fort was ever supplied with small cannon, only muskets and rifles. That the savages regarded it with displeasure and sought more than one opportunity to attack the occupants, there is abundant proof. They prowled in small bands or lay concealed in the surrounding thickets ready to shoot down and scalp any thoughtless occupant who might venture a few hundred yards from the enclosure."
Of its location, Buckalew noted, "the stockade was situated on a commanding point of land on what is now the township of Wayne, in Clinton County, one mile west of the post village of Pine. At this point the river described a great bend, providing a commanding view for about one mile up and down the stream. Looking across the river to the north, the magnificent view of the rich alluvial valley is afforded, and in the rear is the dark and somber range of the Bald Eagle Mountain."
Because of increasing Indian threats in the spring of 1777, a petition pleading for military assistance was signed at Fort Horn by almost 50 settlers - including Horn, John and Robert Fleming, and Alexander Hamilton (not the Hamilton who became the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury). It was sent to the "Supreme Executive Council of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania" in Lancaster and read:
"We, your humble petitioners humbly sheweth that whereas we are driven by the Indians from our habitations and are obliged to assemble ourselves together for our common defense, have thought meet to acquaint you with our deplorable situation; we have for a month bypassed endeavored to maintain our ground with the loss of nearly 50 murdered and made captives, still expecting relief from Col. Hunter, but we are persuaded that the gentleman has done as much for us as laid in his power. We are at length surrounded by great numbers on every side, and unless our honorable council grants us some assistance, we will be obliged to evacuate this frontier, which will be a great encouragement to the enemy and be very injurious to our common cause. We therefore humbly request that you would grant us as many men as you may judge sufficient and some ammunition, and as we are very ill provided with arms, we beg that you would afford us some of them."
Finally, on July 3, 1778, with no assistance arising out of the pleas to Lancaster and having been informed of a great number of Seneca Indians descending from New York intent on destroying the white settlements, Hunter ordered the evacuation of the valley. Robert Copenhoven, a soldier and scout, carried the order from Fort Muncy to Antes Fort, and Robert Fleming on to Fort Horn.
Buckalew wrote: "Records inform us that all settlers within several miles collected at Horn's and a great state of excitement prevailed. Judging from the extent of the settlements at the time, 100 or more fugitives must have been collected there; the order to evacuate was filled with alarm well night bordering on despair. The frenzied settlers made at once to set preparations to abandon their humble homes and growing crops. Many of them buried chinaware and other household effects that they couldn't carry with them, in places that they could recognize if they were ever permitted to return."
Note: The source of information for this article is John M. Buckalew's "Frontier Forts within the North and West Branches of the Susquehanna River," in Clarence M. Busch's 1896 "Report of the Commission to Locate the Sites of the Frontier Forts of Pennsylvania."